The Orange Eagle trophy may well be a formality this year, with Syracuse building a nearly insurmountable lead even before winning last Saturday's football game. But a big measure of #OrangeEagle pride - and, more importantly, a spot in the NCAA College Cup, soccer's Final Four - is on the line this Saturday at 2 PM when BC and Syracuse clash in an Elite Eight matchup. Can BC pull off another road upset? We chatted with Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician soccer writer Stephen Haller to get the scoop.
1. It seems like Syracuse cruised pretty easily past Seattle into the Elite 8; is that fair to say based on your assessment of the game?
Stephen: When you can put two up inside the first thirty minutes, one inside two minutes, you can afford to coast a bit. The Orange seemed to put the pressure on when they needed to, in order to keep Seattle at bay. I'd have been interested to see how the match would have played out if Syracuse hadn't scored inside two minutes, forcing Seattle to chase from the onset.
2. Syracuse finished below .500 in regular season ACC play but went on a crazy hot streak to win the ACC tournament title and advance to the Elite Eight. What has changed about Syracuse's play that has allowed them to get hot at the right time?
Stephen: To be fair, the losses were to some solid competition, in the #1 (Wake Forest), #2 (Clemson), #4 (UNC) and #15 (BC) teams in the country. It's been a multitude of factors. The midfield is bossing the game a bit more with Pasanen, Alseth and Buescher possessing the ball and playing wide with Liam Callahan. The young defense is much more confident and the three man backline is holding up well to the rigors of ACC play and has learned a lot as they go. Ben Polk has turned into an unstoppable scoring machine. It's probably a good blend of these.
3. Who are some key players to watch for the Orange on Saturday? And how would you expect Syracuse to approach the game tactically?
Stephen: Offensively - Ben Polk (F) and Julian Buescher (M). The two have combined for just under half of the goals and total points we've tallied this year. Buescher is a #10 who likes to move in space and can shoot as well as pick a pass. Polk is a striker who's good with the ball at his feet and can use pace to run onto through balls as needed.
Defensively - Juuso Pasanen. I'm a sucker for a defensive midfielder. He's a real solid defensive midfielder and one of the first names on the team sheet. He'll play box to box if the play dictates it, but can sit in a holding role with the best of them. I would have called out one of the CBs over the others, but all three are pretty stalwart and mobile for college defenders.
4. Do the Orange have any key weaknesses BC will be looking to exploit?
Stephen: The team is pretty disciplined but they are young. On a few occasions, you've seen teams hit hard on the counter, when Syracuse is pushing forward. I look specifically to the Dartmouth game for a recent example. Cuse controlled the run of play, but got burnt right off the bat to go down 1-0 in their opener of the NCAA tournament. When Pasanen and Oyvind Alseth push forward in that midfield, it can leave some space that can be exploited.
5. Where does soccer rank among Syracuse fans in terms of attention, fan support, etc.? Is the wider fan base noticing the team's run to some degree?
Stephen: As you would expect, it's behind Football, Basketball and Lacrosse. We get a good bit of support, 1,270 per game on average. If there's a big game and the students are in town, we'll spike over 3,500. The support and atmosphere could be better, but that will come with the continued growth of soccer in the area and some coordination from the students. The wider fan base has started to pick up on the fact that the Olympic sports around here are on the uptick, what with the Field Hockey and XC National Championships this year.
6. Do you have a prediction for a) how Saturday's game will play out and b) how far the winner can advance in this tournament? Is Wake Forest just going to crush everyone or what?
Stephen: I'm thinking that the home team takes it 2-1 again. Thankfully for Syracuse, we're the home team this time. BC has been playing everyone tight this tournament and should give tough test to the team. It's always tough to beat a team multiple times in a year though and we've seen you guys once already.
I think whoever wins has as good a shot as any at winning the thing. Clemson is really good, but beatable. Wake Forest is winning, but they're not dominating from what I've seen. Notre Dame nipped them in the ACC Tournament and the two NCAA games they've played have only been 1-0 victories at this point. I think whoever they face in the next few games has a chance if they hope Wake doesn't find their form again.